Captain America: The Winter Soldier (12A)

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson

Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Running time: 136 minutes

Release date: March 28, UK & Ireland

ALMOST three years on from his debut solo outing, Marvel’s super soldier Captain America returns to cinema screens next week.

But The Winter Soldier, from televisual directing team brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, taking over from Joe Johnston, is a very different proposition from The First Avenger.

Now that the introductions have been done – and the Captain, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has also been seen alongside his Avengers buddies in an all-conquering billion dollar outing – this sequel delves into a little more of his life post-thaw as he tries to adapt to the sensibilities of the modern world.  

And, of course, it throws a whole host of SHIELD and Hydra issues into the mix, too. 

A slick Nolan-esque heist, complete with similar pulsing score, kicks off the action as the captain and his team, including fellow avenger Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), arrive on board a ship to rescue a host of SHIELD employees who have been taken hostage.

Things swiftly get more complicated as the Captain tussles with the agency’s public director Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) steps into the frame, and the Winter Soldier himself makes an appearance. 

From the off, this is a solid instalment of action from the wholly reliable studio, one which is now utterly expert in guiding, connecting and continuing its characters.

And much of the strength of The Winter Soldier resides in the fact that its essentially pure leading man is supported on all sides by other personalities from the Marvel universe.

Thus, there are many opportunities for Johansson and Jackson to shine, opportunities they grab with both hands. And lucky Anthony Mackie takes what he's given and soars with it. 

That’s not to say that Evans is overshadowed, as he more than shoulders his share of the work, especially in a moving encounter at the bedside of his former love, Peggy.

Sebastian Stan is restricted as to what he can achieve with his character’s emotional arc, but he sells it and is a convincing, relentless adversary.

Impressive set-pieces abound, most notably one in a lift and another centering on the sabotage of Fury’s vehicle, and the fast and furious action has been stylishly choreographed.

A little bit of expositional fatigue might set in as the plot twists and turns but you’ll be sustained by the production’s wit (including a brilliant Pulp Fiction reference), scale (the Triskelion and all other key big locations look terrific), the Stan Lee cameo and Jenny Agutter’s standout turn as a SHIELD council member.  

Stay in your seat for two end credit sequences. The final one is nothing to write home about, but the mid one teases Age of Ultron stars Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch) and Aaron Taylor Johnson (Quicksilver).

Avengers 2 can’t come soon enough.